It does not look like the best of years for major college football prospects among San Gabriel Valley high school teams.
Scouts say there is no quarterback who approaches the stature of 6-8 Dan McGwire from Claremont, now a freshman at Iowa, and there may not be a running back as talented as Pomona's J. J. Flannigan, a freshman at Colorado.
Of course, it is not every year that the valley produces two consensus prep All-Americans like them.
Running backs Eric Bieniemy of Bishop Amat, Eric Henley of Damien and Ricky Ervins of Muir, cornerback Leonard Hudson of Pomona and defensive end Tom Lassalette of West Covina figure to be among the most recruited in the state.
"Those are players who will attract a lot of attention from major colleges," says Dick Lascola, who runs the Fallbrook-based Scouting Evaluation Assn. "Lassalette may be one of the top dozen defensive players in the country, and Hudson is one of the best defensive backs in the country."
After the top group, Lascola has his share of suspects--players who could develop into blue-chippers by the end of the season. Among them are big linemen Richard Garrick of Bishop Amat and Antonio Johnson of Ganesha and linebacker Phil Russell of Wilson in Hacienda Heights.
"In the valley it is a question-mark year," Lascola said. "The Lassalettes, the Bieniemys and the Henleys are good prospects, but there aren't that many more right now. A few others have the talent and could step forward."
The valley's strongest position may be running back and the weakest quarterback.
"You could shake a stick and not come up with a quarterback," Lascola said.
Bluest of the Chips
Bieniemy (Bishop Amat, running back)--If there is a consensus choice at running back, it could be Bieniemy, a speedy (4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash) 5-10, 190-pounder who has excelled as a tailback the last two seasons. He rushed for 1,824 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior and is listed among the top seniors by free-lance scout Max Emfinger of Houston and Street & Smith magazine. "He has been around for a couple of years and proven himself," Lascola said. "He's a little small but he's a tough kid with a low center of impact."
Ervins (Muir, running back)--There are those who will argue that Ervins is the top runner, and they may have a good case. Ervins (5-9, 185) has rushed for about 2,000 yards in two years, including 1,300 and 17 touchdowns last season. He has also developed into a good receiver. With a blazing time of 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, he may be the fastest back in the valley. Cal-Hi Sports News of San Jose calls him the top returning player in the state. He is also listed among Emfinger's top 200 and on the Street & Smith team.
Henley (Damien, running back)--It should come as no surprise that Henley is a blue-chipper--not when you consider that he has brothers starting for Stanford and UCLA. Tom is a running back at Stanford and Darryl a defensive back at UCLA. Eric may be one of the most versatile players in the valley because he has played wide receiver and defensive back and returns kickoffs and punts. Henley (5-10, 165) rushed for 1,333 yards and 18 touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 293 yards as a junior. "He shows versatility, and the thing you like about him is his bloodlines," Lascola said.
Hudson (Pomona, cornerback)--Pomona always seems to produce at least one blue-chip prospect and the latest is Hudson (5-11, 180). He was slowed by injuries last year, which may have hurt his reputation among recruiters. But there is no question about his skills. Hudson is a solid hitter with range, outstanding leaping ability and excellent hands and feet. He leaped 23-6 in the long jump to win the CIF 3-A title and has covered the 40-yard dash in a swift 4.5.
Lassalette (West Covina, defensive end and tight end)--Some scouts think Lassalette has most promise at tight end, while others believe his future is as a defensive end. At 6-4 and 230, he probably could be a college standout at either position. He is listed as a tight end by Street & Smith and a defensive end by Emfinger. He also plays linebacker on defense. Lascola calls him one of the top defensive prospects in the nation. Lassalette does the 40 in 4.8, is aggressive and blocks well.
Johnson (Ganesha, defensive line)--At 6-5 and 265, Johnson is one of the most imposing defensive linemen in the Southland. Selected among the top players by Street & Smith, he runs the 40 in 4.9 and returned two fumbles for touchdowns last season. An outstanding all-around athlete, he also stars for the school's basketball team. However, he is academically ineligible and will miss at least the first six games.
Garrick (Bishop Amat, offensive tackle)--On the subject of imposing linemen, Garrick must be considered. At 6-4 and 260, he is listed as a prospect at tackle by Max Emfinger and an offensive lineman by Street & Smith. Lascola, who likes Garrick's strength, says he may have more of a future at guard. He reads defenses well.